Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Environmental woes started 10,000 years ago

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The book Consulting the Genius of the Place came to me right off the Watkins Glen Public Library shelves a couple of weeks ago.

The writing is excellent, the topic compelling. I couldn't put it down.

The book is all about agriculture, sustainability and ecology and how by adopting an agricultural model for civilization - a model that eventually led to the industrial revolution and the petrochemical-industrial nightmare we live in now - the game was up before it started.

Agriculture is about 10,000 years old. The Earth (and the environment we live in), oh about 3 billion years give or take.

And look what we have done to the Earth in a blink of time's eye.

I didn't realize until I was well into the book that the author - Wes Jackson of the Land Institute - is the rock star of soil conservation and the leader of a movement to get us to stop continually #$^&#&ing up the planet.

He writes so smoothly and convincingly that you almost believe him when he says the planet can be saved as a habitat for humans. The book is peppered with data, good quotes and enough personal anecdotes to make it as good a read as many novels.
Wes Jackson

No, make that better than many novels.

One of his key themes is that agriculture, particularly as practiced in the western world with chemical fertilizers and machinery (all reliant on oil pulled from the ground), is destructive and not sustainable. In a way, he says, we have been spending our environmental bank account for 10,000 years, each generation faster and faster as we have more people, more demand more resources and more ways to pillage the environment.

(Can anyone spell hydrofracking?)

But the bill for all of this profligacy is coming due.

His solution - one the Land Institute is working on with others - is to create and/or find a perennial grain that can be harvested to replace the grains now seeded every year. It is that endless seeding, fertilizing, harvesting cycle in a mostly monoculture of plants that is so destructive, he says. And today's agriculture is way too tied in with oil and oil-related industries.

"By starting out where our split with nature began, we can build an agriculture more like the ecosystems that shaped us, thereby preserving ecological capital..." he wrote.

Amen to that.

Consulting the Genius of the Place is recommended reading, even if the closest you usually get to agriculture is the produce aisle at the grocery store.

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